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Walls v. Department of Employment Security

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 16, 2013

JOSHUA A. WALLS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Board of Review, Defendant-Appellee

Rule 23 Order filed July 17, 2013, Motion to publish granted August 16, 2013

Held[*]

Plaintiff coal miner was properly denied unemployment benefits because he left work without good cause attributable to his employer, notwithstanding his contentions that he was not provided proper safety equipment when he went into the mines, since plaintiff did not report the alleged violations until after he quit and he failed to exercise options other than quitting to resolve his concerns about safety.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Saline County, No. 12-MR-56; the Hon. Todd D. Lambert, Judge, presiding. Judgment

Joshua Walls, of Eldorado, appellant pro se.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and Jan E. Hughes, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellee.

Panel PRESIDING JUSTICE SPOMER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Chapman and Cates concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SPOMER JUSTICE

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Joshua A. Walls, filed a complaint for administrative review of a decision of the Illinois Department of Employment Security Board of Review (Board). The Board determined that, pursuant to section 601(A) of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 2010)), the plaintiff was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because he voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to his employer. From the circuit court's order, the plaintiff appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 The plaintiff was employed by Big Buck Construction, Inc. (Big Buck), as a miner from April 2011 to April 2012, at which time he left Big Buck. After he left Big Buck, the plaintiff filed a claim with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) for unemployment benefits, stating that he left his job because he believed that Big Buck was asking its employees to work in unsafe conditions. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that he was asked to go down into the mines without proper safety equipment, namely, a texter and a spotter.[1]The plaintiff also reported this information to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Big Buck filed a response that stated that it was aware that the plaintiff had reported the alleged safety violations to the MSHA but noted that the MSHA did not find any safety violations following an inspection.

¶ 4 A claims adjudicator determined that the plaintiff was ineligible for unemployment benefits, pursuant to section 601(A) of the Act (820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 2010)). The claims adjudicator stated: "Since the employer was aware of the conditions and had the ability to control the conditions or acts, the claimant's reason for leaving is attributable to the employer. However, because the conditions or acts were not serious violations of the original hiring agreement or did not create a substantially less favorable work situation, the claimant left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer." The plaintiff appealed the decision of the claims adjudicator to the IDES.

¶ 5 On June 13, 2012, a referee with the IDES held a telephone hearing. Admitted into evidence was the plaintiff's appeal letter as well as a federal Department of Labor publication titled "Miners' Rights." The plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified that he had been a laborer in the coal mine with Big Buck for a little over a year. He testified that he did not give advanced notice when he quit his job and informed the owner of Big Buck, Jim Suits, that he was quitting due to his safety concerns. The plaintiff testified that he had shared his concerns with Suits and others at Big Buck at least six or seven times, and that he had been asked to go down into the mines without a spotter or properly functioning texter about six or seven times. The last time that he was asked to go into the mine without the proper safety equipment, he waited until a week afterwards and then quit his job and reported his concerns to the MSHA. When asked why he did not report his concerns to the MSHA sooner, the plaintiff responded that he did not want to lose his job for reporting the issues. The plaintiff acknowledged that the Coal Mining Act (225 ILCS 705/1.01 to 39.1 (West 2010)) provided that an employee could not be discharged for reporting safety violations, and any reporting would remain confidential. However, he believed that someone at Big Buck would find out that he reported his safety concerns because that was "the way mines work." He stated that the first time he was asked to go into the mine without the proper safety equipment was about six or seven months before he left Big Buck.

ΒΆ 6 When questioned by his attorney, the plaintiff stated that both the texter and the spotter were required by law. He stated that he had an associate's degree in coal mining technology and part of the curriculum was mining law, so he knew that the texter and spotter were required in the coal mines. He also testified that he shared ...


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